NOT Your Common RiffRaff

Words by Jenkin Au
Photography by Jarvis Ho and guest, Anthony So
Check out more at The RiffRaffs WEBSITE

The RiffRaffs are an up and coming brand running in Vancouver. Daylan Wong and Austin Kwan started this brand, which bases many of their designs on a name they came up with back in their secondary schooling years. They use a lot of references of things in the past and their childhood, such as the Vancouver Grizzlies and various cartoons. Read on as they discuss their brand with us for your viewing pleasure.

Introduce yourselves real quick.

A: I’m Austin Kwan

D: I’m Daylan Wong

How did you come together and form this entity?

D: Well, I guess it started back in high school. It really started out as more of something for ourselves, kind of like a crew or a group of friends, and something that stands for us and our friends, similar to maybe The Outsiders or the Greasers. It would be cool to have a crew name, but we never really did. In high school, it never did go into fruition. Austin and I kept it in the background until a couple years later and we graduated. We decided between the two of us to do it because we had more of a passion for it.

How are you combining your clothing label with the Vancouver lifestyle?

A: I guess a lot of our inspirations are from our childhood and how we were brought up, like with TV shows and cartoons. We are hoping that other Vancouverites have experienced the same things and watched the same cartoons, same sports.

D: We don’t really make it specifically a Vancouver style. It’s pretty much something we would wear ourselves, so we wouldn’t make it just because we’re making it to fit with a trend or whatnot. If it connects to us and has a meaning behind it, then we’re all up for it. For Vancouver, we did a flip on the Grizzlies team. I like the logo and I’m not necessarily saying they’re a great team. I just love how the logo looks, and I thought, “why not pay homage to Vancouver, too?” So we just flipped it that way.

A: Rather than going for a trend, why not go for something that can stand the test of time? That way, you can keep wearing it. If it’s not in style, it will never be out of style.
What is the meaning behind the name?

D: There’s a lot. I don’t really know if I can fully explain it. The RiffRaffs are derived from the tale of Aladdin. We kind of have this phrase like, “RiffRaffs… Street Rats….” It’s more like common folk, just like you and I. It’s trying to take that dream of from rags to riches, aiming for a goal or a dream you have. It’s really a passion and it’s driven by what we like. At the moment, we’re not ready to push it where it will be full time yet. Right now, we’re trying to get more exposure, while still enjoying what we do.

What can you communicate with a t-shirt?

A: Well, with a t-shirt, most of them are from our experiences, like TV shows or whatever. I guess we’re trying to reach out to our audience. It’s different enough, but at the same time, they understand it. There’s a little hint of the old stuff.

How do you anticipate the scene changing with the development of The RiffRaffs?

D: Right now, we’re just trying to get our name out there and build locally. I mean, before you can be recognized anywhere else, you have to develop a following. If we have our city noticing the brand and the design, and they like it, then we can go on from there. We just have to branch out and expand more. It’s just the two of us right now and it is really independent. When we expand, hopefully we’ll be able to expand across the nation and we may be dipping ourselves into North America. One step at a time.

Can a shirt with a graphic be a symbol of a person?

D: I agree 100%. Everything that we design, there’s some personality of either one or both of us. With the Vancouver RiffRaffs tee, that’s just because we’re from the city. We grew up around the time when the Grizzlies were a new team. There were only two teams in Canada, right? It was either the Grizzlies or the Raptors. This tee that I’m wearing right now, I’m a huge fan of the Transformers. “To Punish and Enslave” is straight from the side of the police car from the movie. On the back, I have Jessica Alba from Sin City. We love comics too so we integrated the panels in this shirt. We use a lot of references from Aladdin too. Our logo is a scimitar. That also stands for standing up and believing in yourself. There will always be people that will doubt you. That symbol represents standing up for your rights and standing up for what you believe in and to strike down anyone that doesn’t believe in you.

What is your definition of a t-shirt with a print on it?

A: These questions are tough!

D: For me, if I see a graphic and it’s well done and it connects to me, then I see elements where I go, “I know that,” or, “I know where that’s from,” then I know people are usually going to buy it. It’s like art. If you see it and it catches your eye, then it’s for you.

A: I guess the definition of a good t-shirt is something that no matter what brand it is, you would buy it. It’s not where you see a tee and say, “that’s pretty cool,” and then you look at the back and it says “X” brand and you go, “F that!” If it’s cool, it’s cool.

D: There’s a difference between the brands that are big and have their name and the small guys. They are allowed to put a box tee logo on it, and it’s the brand that makes it so awesome. There are some brands out there that they don’t need to put a logo on it. That’s what we’re trying to go for. We only have two tees that have our name on it.

A: Even our target market, it’s not only for people that are into street wear. We just want people to buy it because it’s awesome.

I find it interesting how your tees carry a lot of parodies. How do you guys first think of that concept? You might as well go into the whole process.

A: Lately, we’ve been trying to do more themes, rather than just everywhere. It usually begins with us coming up with a good idea and then we come up with something rough. I go home and work on it, and then I show Daylan and we decide if it’s good.

D: You can just look at something from anywhere and that shape just catches your eye.

A: I was trying to come up with this one design for the winter, but I just couldn’t do it! All of a sudden, I got it. It was totally a fluke.

How long do you see yourselves in this game?

D: As long as the passion is still there, then it won’t stop. I think that when it starts getting really hard for a brand to come up with a design, then that’s the end of the road.

Did Vancouver lose its soul when the Grizzlies left?

A: It did suck when they left. Basketball is interesting to watch, but I just think we’re not a basketball town. Even though they left, I don’t think anyone cared. It’s all about hockey here.

What do you have to say to those that are coming up?

A: Just keep on working. It is ok to ask for help.

D: Don’t be shy there’s nothing wrong with getting help. Get out there and network and meet some people.

Explain how The RiffRaffs are not just a brand, but a lifestyle.

A: It’s really just about working hard and doing what you do. Even if it’s really hard, you still have to try to do it. Stay positive.

D: Working hard and playing hard. We like to have fun with friends and do what normal people do.

Why might a tee be unattainable for The RiffRaffs?

A: Seriously, it’s because we can’t afford it. We always have these really big ideas and then we get quotes, and then we say, “We’ll call you back.”

D: Everything is coming out of our own pocket. We don’t have anyone backing us up, or any investors or anything like that. Sometimes you want to make certain colours or woven tags on the outside or sleeve tags, but you just can’t because they are too expensive.

What’s the message you are intending with the shirt with the Banzai Bill on it?

D: It has “harder, better, faster, stronger” on it and it’s got the Daft Punk kind of font on it. Initially, I was inspired by the art on the planes from World War 2. You have a lot of graphics on the side of the bomber planes. For us, it was a question of, “if we had a bomber plane, and we had to go to war, what would we have on the side?” Basically, [the Banzai Bill] is what we would have on it. It’s just something that symbolizes that crew or that unit or their kill count. For us it’s just trying to push us to be the best we can be. Then, we have the swords on it which is our logo, the two scimitars. Then on the front, Austin put the goggles and on the neck.

What other t-shirt brands do you particularly like?

A: I enjoy 3sixteen. Just over the years and looking at the brand and where they’ve gone, it’s really impressive. Before, it used to be only t-shirts, and now it’s much more.

D: 3sixteen is one of them for sure. It shows how they’ve grown themselves and how they’re doing something they like. Throughout the years, their tastes changed, so they decided to go that route. I am really into The Hundreds, but not as much as I was back in like, 2006. Their whole concept is something that I would like to achieve. I love how they can just totally connect with their audience.

D: Definitely. I also like Triumvir; they changed completely. Now, they finally understand that they need to do what they like. Their whole thing has changed from the really bright and Bape-ish things, and then now, it’s the darker stuff.

What is HYPE?

D: It’s a feeling of excitement over anything. It’s an overwhelming sensation that applies anything in life, like a new job that pays better, getting a day off, getting a trip, or finishing finals in school. It’s just awesome.

A: It doesn’t have to do with you; it’s almost like a chain reaction. It could be someone jumping in the mall, and you have no idea what it is about, but you just want to go see it. HYPE, I guess, is something that you don’t need to know what it is; you just get caught up in it.

D: It is usually big enough to catch more than one person. It’s infectious.